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“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Good Fruit and the Mystery of Salvation”

Today’s Epistle shows us that by exchanging masters from sin to God, we thereby become something other than slaves – sons.  We have a new relationship.  Becoming the servant of God, we are given the gifts of the Spirit of God, which allows us to call God Abba, or Father.

Today’s Gospel shows us, in the words of Fr. Shepherd, that “…Not everyone who addresses Christ as ‘Lord’ really belongs to Him, but only those who bring forth in their lives the true faith of the Spirit.”  We show that we follow God’s will not by public declarations and extraordinary acts, but by humble “deeds of righteousness”.

So receiving the Spirit of adoption, we cry, Abba, Father.  We are made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  We are joined with Christ and presented by Him to the Father as part of Him, a member, a cutting away from sin which has been grafted onto the Body of Christ.  Yet as a grafted branch and member of Christ, if we do not produce good fruit, then Christ will claim not to know us on the last day.  The last verse of today’s Gospel and the next two verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel read,

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

How can we square this in our minds?  How can we take being elected heir of God the Father and yet not know him through our lack of good fruit?  This quandary speaks to the very heart of salvation.  We think of the charges alleged against Baptists, “once saved always saved”, wherein they can do wickedness after they are saved and still go to Heaven.  Martin Luther had a terrible time putting this together, so much so that he wanted St. James’ Epistle cut from the New Testament canon for “faith without works is dead”.  We also think of the Roman Catholics, against whom are alleged that they believe in “works righteousness”, wherein they do good works to be saved.  It is all a terrible mess.

But both of these things are true.  We are both grafted onto the Body of Christ through the action of the Holy Ghost and made joint-heirs with Christ and partakers of heavenly gladness and we might be chopped off that Lordly vine and thrown out to be burned if we do not produce good fruits.  We are adopted sons, but we are expected to do something with this gift.  We are given so much, and we ought to produce good works with what we have been given.

 

Let me explain this mystery of salvation, of justification and sanctification, this mystery of being “saved”.  For I call each and every one of you to both justification, or getting right with God, and to sanctification, or growing holy like God is holy.  We need both.  If you become a member of Christ’s Body, you are bound for eternal life with God.  But to live eternally with God, you must become perfect, become holy.  Both go together.

“Conversion”, “regeneration” or new birth, “strengthening with the Spirit”, and “good fruit” have a right relation to each other.  These relate to each other in Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  Since part of Holy Church, the Church Militant, is here on his earth right now, she, being the Body of Christ our Lord, gives us access in Christ to what we need to live with God forever.

God loves us.  He created us to live with him at the very beginning, but we rejected him.  He sent the Law and the Prophets, but we rejected them.  He sent His only-begotten Son into this world as one of us, to redeem us with His Precious Blood.  God in Three Persons loves us and wants us with him forever.

 

Let us take, for example, our friend the unbaptized sinner.  He wanders through this world hardly knowing right from wrong.  All that he does is tainted with sin both of deeds and of his sinful human nature.  But God as sovereign of the universe, through his angels and his saints, as creator of the world, prepares a path back to himself for the unwashed sinner.  God leads him to salvation in his prevenient grace.

Being thus led, let’s say this sinner sees God in the sky, or in song, or in the love of his fellow man.  His conscience is pricked, and he realizes he needs Christ.  He attends worship.  He learns of the things of God.  He believes in Christ and undergoes Holy Baptism.  He is born again, made regenerate.  He has new life, Christ’s life.  His old sinful self dies, and he is grafted onto the Body of Christ.

In this Sacrament of the Church, not through ritual magic but in the boundless merits of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, our friend here has his sins completely washed away.  The spiritual consequence of his misdeeds is undone.  Christ has taken away his sinful nature.  Yet our friend has not stopped being himself.  Unfortunately, he will walk out those red doors and sin again.  He is not yet perfect in Christ.

So our friend must be strengthened for the journey of our earthly pilgrimage.  He is currently a babe, a child in Christ.  He is a new Christian.  He may have many years on earth, but he is not spiritually mature.  He needs strength, maturity.  And so Holy Church has his bishop lay his hands upon him and confer the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The essence of Confirmation is not the recital of the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, or Decalogue.  The essence of Confirmation is not even that our friend reaffirms his Baptismal vow to live a Christian life.  The essence of Confirmation is the laying on of episcopal hands, anointing with holy oil, and the giving of the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.

These gifts are understanding and wisdom so he can discern the truth and its value, are knowledge and counsel so he can apprehend and apply moral laws, true godliness for loving piety, ghostly strength for “courageous spiritual warfare”, and holy fear for the loving desire to please God.  With these gifts imparted, our friend is weaned from childish food and is ready for the holy meal.

So converted, Baptized, and Confirmed, our good friend receives for the very first time Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament, Christ’s gift of Himself to us.  This is his meat and drink for the spiritual life here on earth.  No one separated from Christ’s gift of Himself, His own Body and Blood, can sustain his arduous journey through this life.

Christ came to earth at the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born on Christmas Day, shed His first Blood at His Circumcision, fasted in the wilderness, taught Israel and beyond, and then carried His own Cross to His Crucifixion so that He might joyously rise again at His Resurrection and ascend into Heaven at His Ascension.  Christ did all this for you and for me.

Christ is not sitting around hanging out with the Father and the Holy Ghost in Heaven; He is interceding for you and me right now before God the Father.  Christ wants us with Him forever, as joint-heirs with Him to God the Father.  Christ wants us in His Baptism and to eat His Sacred Body and drink His Holy Blood.

Only now is our friend full up on the grace Christ would like to give him.  He has experienced conversion of heart.  He has experienced new birth in Christ.  He has received the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  He receives the Body and Blood of Christ.  And yet….

And yet our friend may turn his back on God and walk away.  Our friend may decide, although it seems hard to imagine given all the trouble he has gone through, he may freely decide that he would rather follow his own thoughts back into unbelief, follow his own path instead of God’s calling to him, follow his own lusts and desires instead of living a holy and moral life.

Our friend is free.  Christ has freed him from sin.  Yet sin is all around us.  If sin were not so terribly enticing, it wouldn’t be a bother.  You see, sin is mighty tasty.  Sin is that peculiar notion, that third beer, that extramarital affair that seems so wonderful at the time.  Our friend may choose this over his loving Lord Christ.

But our friend still has a lot going for him.  He is grafted onto Christ’s living Body.  Christ would have him exercise his self-discipline and live a morally courageous life.  He could obey those Ten Commandments.  He could pray every day and study the Holy Scriptures.  He could love his enemies and turn the other cheek.

How can we know that our friend, now our brother is doing well?  Some of this holy striving to live a fruitful life is noticeable.

We would see our brother at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  He would receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

We would see our brother materially support his parish through the tithe.  We might see him at a library fundraiser, but his wife and the parish treasurer would know he was giving God that ten percent of his income that shows he is truly thankful for the blessings God has given him.

We would see our brother remain faithful to his wife.  No shenanigans for this fellow, no flirting with the ladies.  Entered into Holy Matrimony with his wife, his devotion to her through the grace of God will have grown since his conversion, Baptism, and Confirmation.

We would see our brother in line at Confession and see him learn from his mistakes as he paid close attention to his conscience.

We would see our good brother fast.  Mind you, he does not flaunt it or throw it in other people’s faces.  He is a good guest and eats what is set before him at other’s homes, but when you see him out for dinner on Fridays he is never at the steakhouse.  When you go to his home for dinner during Lent, you are served fish and vegetables.

Our good brother bears much fruit.  Having been converted, born again, strengthened for the journey, and nourished at the Lord’s Table, we see him in the parish and the community doing his Six Duties of Churchmen and so much more.  Like a patriarch of old, he is generous to the poor and needy, upright in his conduct, and faithful to his God.  He is not a perfect man, but he is preparing for everlasting life.

This our friend shall not be lopped off the living vine and tossed into the fire.  Our friend bears much fruit, and not a little of it is in setting a good example for the rest of us.

 

For those of us Baptized as infants, hopefully we may avoid our conversion experience.  Although infants are incapable of sin and therefore the washing away of committed sins by Baptism does not help infants, Holy Baptism does kill off the old sinful nature and put the robe of righteousness onto that little baby.  Growing up in the Church, that baby can grow into a lovely young lady.  Weaned off of childish things, she will be strengthened with the Holy Ghost at her Confirmation and receive the solid food of Holy Communion, of Christ’s Body and Blood, for the first time.  Raised properly and not being too contrary, she may never need to go through the time of rebellion from God that would require a conversion of heart.

But for those of us, like myself, who were Baptized as an infant but went through a time of rebellion from God, Christ’s life does not avail for us until we are converted.  Holy Baptism does suck your soul up into Heaven.  It makes us regenerate, but only with conversion of life.  Only the fruitful tree shall enter into the Kingdom of heaven.  We must respond in faith through good works to reckon with the call of Christ in our lives.

 

We were created in the image of God, and our natural and supernatural growth shall be in God’s image.  Therefore, we are to love perfectly.  St. Matthew v.48:  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Those that are written in the Lamb’s book of life, those who are undefiled, shall enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem.  Since we are washed clean of our sins in Christ, those who are undefiled are those who have been freed from their sins and made perfect in Christ.  He makes abundantly clear to us in the Holy Scriptures and in Holy Church that we are to improve from our sinful, broken, and alienated selves.  Christ wants us in Heaven with Him, but we cannot take our selfishness, idolatrous, and lying ways with us.  We have to grow in morality, in loving-kindness, and in holiness.  Our hearts must burn with loving-kindness for one another just like the Sacred Heart of Christ our Lord.  We may live our homely humble Anglican lives, but all our domestic virtue is but a sensible and decent overflow from the burning furnace of divine love in our hearts.

Here at St. Luke Church, we are more than our members, for we are members of Christ.  Even if we were the weakest and most sinful folk, Christ would still truly be here among us because He is God.  Still, Christ calls us to be perfect as He is perfect.  We, grafted onto Christ, are to become as pure and virtuous and holy as Christ.  We must each work on ourselves in this great community we have here.

The whole parish grows healthier and stronger the more we each grow healthier and stronger in the Lord.  The more we improve our lives, the more we fast according to the rule of Holy Church, the more we attend Mass as we ought, the more we say our prayers and read the Scriptures in between Sundays, the more we all grow.  The more we love our God and love our neighbors, our parish grows into a more loving parish.

Different members have different concerns, but there is one answer which addresses everyone’s concern:  Christ.  He is God come down amongst us to raise us up with Him to live with God the Father forever.  Our spiritual ancestors walked in the cool of the garden with God.  You and I will also walk with God after Christ returns.

But we mustn’t presume to be saved.  God has given us great work to do.  And in true Anglican manner, our great work is quite humble.  You and I are to look each other in the eye, to know one another, and to love each other.  You and I are to stand facing the same direction and worship God together.  We are not Hindus who look to wash in the River Ganges.  We are not Moslems who must visit the Black Stone in Mecca.  We are humble sinners, washed in the Blood of Christ, strengthened in the Holy Ghost, and we come together before the altar of God to eat the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord.

Through repentance of our sins, sacramental grace, and self-discipline let us cultivate our spiritual life according to Holy Church so that from the well-tended garden of our hearts comes forth those fruits of the spirit in which progress towards perfection declares itself.  To those who live in those fruits of the spirit come the blessings of the Beatitudes, which indeed are preliminary to the joys of the world to come.

 

“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

This parable of Christ’s shows a tension in God’s progressive revelation to us.  What do I mean by progressive revelation?  Consider the Holy Scriptures.  God reveals himself to Abraham as an individual man and through his family, then more fully to Moses and the nation of Israel through the Law, and then more fully to Israel and other nations through the Prophets of old.  Then, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son” into the world to be born by the Holy Ghost of the Blessed Virgin Mary and made man.  God became one of us in Jesus of Galilee, and He changed our relationship with God.

St. Paul speaks of this in the fourth chapter of Galatians (iv.1-7):  “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.  Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:  But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.  And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.  Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

My dear children, we who believe in Christ and have been baptized into His Death and Resurrection are the adopted sons of God the Father and the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ our Lord.  By the very nature of God and how he has related himself to us, we are in, or have been called to be in, a personal relationship to the High King of Heaven.  Look around you and take care to see the invisible and supernatural crowns upon the heads of the others in here.  It is no lie that the saints are portrayed in art with halos around their heads.

And as adopted sons of God the Father, we can learn several things that peal like bells throughout Scripture.  First, God is a person, or rather, Three Persons.  We cannot have a relationship to God which is not a personal relationship.  Second, we are wanted.  As adopted sons of God, we should know in our very heart of hearts that God wants us.  God chose us.  God chose you, and God chose me.  We are valuable, we are wanted.  Third, since God chose or elected us to be in a personal relationship with him, then we cannot make our way to God under our own power or by our own will.  We are called out of this mess we are in, we are summoned forth from this existence of sin and sorrow and death and decay, and we are elected into holy relationship with God.  We absolutely and in no way can earn this.  Not even if we do everything that we ought to do and even if we avoid everything we ought to avoid.  In no way can we behave or act in any way good enough for us to deserve God’s love.  We do not deserve and cannot deserve life everlasting in the presence of God.

So:  First, God is personal.  Second, you are wanted.  Third:  You cannot deserve him.

Let’s go back to the parable Christ speaks in the eighteenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel.

The Pharisee “went up into the temple to pray.”  And what does he do?  He “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”

He thanks God all right; he thanks God that he is not like lesser men, sinful men, men who commit awful sins, who are unjust, who do not fast like they ought, and who do not give of their wealth as they ought.  Most notably, the Pharisee thanks God that he is not like the other man there praying, the publican.

At this point, a lot of us suffer the temptation to say “thank God that I am not like that Pharisee!”  Boy howdy, look at him, proud as a peacock, trusting in himself, and thinking he’s so superior to that other man, the man who actually gets it right!  But before we think that we are not like that Pharisee, let’s consider it a bit.

The man makes two related moves.  First, he thanks God that he is not like other men are.  We all have choices to make in our lives.  The men he’s referring to are those who commit adultery, they cheat on their wives.  I think to myself, “Am I such a man?  Why no, I am not.”  But Christ says, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  Christ has fulfilled the Law; Christ has gone deep into the human heart; Christ tells us that to make that little evil act of will quietly inside of us is to break the commandment.  To be wicked in a tiny little thing that you don’t share with anybody else is to break off your relationship with God the Father in Heaven above and throw yourself at the feet of Satan and his demons.

The Pharisee does not get this.  He doesn’t care if his heart is right; he is not on the lookout for his interior spiritual life.  He actually cares about his relationship with God, but he thinks that he can maintain that relationship by following God’s Law; by dotting every I and crossing every T.  But the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ tells us that this is not so.

St. Paul says of this in Second Corinthians iii.2-4:  “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.  And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:  Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”

The Pharisee trusts in himself instead of in God.  He has read God’s Law and seeks to obey it.  He leads an upright life.  He tithes.  He fasts.  He goes to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee is a man of very high personal integrity.  He is no hypocrite.  He is no slacker.  As such, I am in no position to point at him and thank God that I am not like him.  In reading God’s word and seeking to do God’s will, that Pharisee of this parable is a far better man than I am.  He comports himself far better than most folks do, for he genuinely seeks the will of God and to do his holy will.  Yet he is profoundly wrong about how he goes about it.

Second, the Pharisee says that he is not like the publican standing near him.  In comparing himself to another, the Pharisee has made a mistake almost all of us make at one time or another:  He has compared his spiritual state to another’s in a favorable light.

I ask of you all:  Who among you can see into another man’s heart?  Who here knows how another considers God’s counsel upon her bed?  Which of us can possibly know the details necessary to judge another correctly, much less possess the wisdom to do so?  The obvious answer of course is that none of us can.

We do sometimes notice others who possess a grace, demonstrate magnanimous loving-kindness, show a tenderness of heart that we lack.  We see good examples of Christian love and conduct among us here and out in our lives, examples we would seek to emulate.  We read in II Kings ii.9:  “And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.”

The problem is not that we recognize both the good and the wicked, but that our selves are so utterly and completely compromised to seek our own good over the good of others that we in no way may trust ourselves when we think that we can objectively trust our judgement that we are superior to another.  The Pharisee is a man of uprightness and integrity, but he frankly and simply does not know himself well enough to suspect that his heart might lie to him.  Our hearts lie to us all the time!  This is why Christ tells us that we can sin in our heart.  This is why St. Paul says that we can show forth God on “the fleshly tables of the heart” with the “Spirit of the living God”.  We cannot do it without God’s Holy Spirit.  Learn, my dear children, from the Pharisee and see that we cannot trust in ourselves.

In the parable, Christ shows us “a more excellent way”:  The publican.  What does the publican do?  “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”

He stands afar off.  He does go to the temple to pray, but he does not go to the best, most prominent place to pray.  Jewish men prayed at the temple, so that is what he does, but he is not haughty about it.

He does not lift his eyes unto heaven.  He does not think that he has done right by God – because truly he has not – and therefore does not think him the equal of God.

He smotes upon his breast.  In other words, he beats his chest.  He is a penitent sinner, and he hits himself over his heart.

He says, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  The publican truly knows himself, what he has done, who his redeemer is, and that he must ask for mercy.  And so simply and plainly, with the fewest words possible, he humbly makes his supplication to God.  This prayer, along with the invocation of Christ, forms what our Orthodox brethren call the Jesus Prayer:  “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”

At the very end of the parable, after the two have had their talk with God, we read, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Think on this:  “Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”  The world as we know it is upside-down.  Well, perhaps not the world.  Even convicted felons know that murder and stealing are wrong.  This is why so many people who are firmly committed to doing wrong – stealing, lying, sleeping around – are most alert for people judging them.  No, the world is not so much upside down as we – you and me – are upside down.  When it comes to our poor selves, we get tangled and confused and consistently substitute our sinful desires for the general good or the good of others.  When a young man seduces a young woman, he is putting his own desires over her well-being.  When a woman steals from her employer, she is putting her own desires over the good of the company.  When a boy lies to his parents, he is putting his own desire over the truth and the common good.

Destruction follows seducing, stealing, and lying to our neighbors or loved ones.  When each one of us sins, we bring something unholy into God’s good Creation, we rend people apart from one another, and we obstruct the flow of God’s free unmerited favor.  We hurt others, and we hurt ourselves, regardless of our intentions.  This is why Christ says at the end of the parable that “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”  Justification is rightness before God; his accounting us just or righteous.  Justification and righteousness are translated similarly.  Despite his integrity, good works, and pious intent, the Pharisee did not go “down to his house justified”.  Despite his sins, the publican did go “down to his house justified”.  The difference is that the one deceived himself and trusted in himself rather than God and that the other knew the truth of himself as a sore sinner and threw himself upon God for mercy.

My good and faithful children, beware of the lies your hearts tell yourselves.  Beware of favorably comparing yourselves to others.  Beware of the deluding voice of your hearts when they tell you that by doing the right things you have thereby pleased God.  God is not mocked; God is not deceived.  He sees into your hearts and knows each of your secret desires.

I ask each of you to do the following this week:  First, remember that you are somehow deluding yourself.  Second, stop yourself several times this week and consider how Christ might view your reasons for what you are doing or saying right then.  Are they wholesome?  Are you deceiving yourself?  Last, when you catch yourself in some slippery self-justification, come clean to God.  He loves you and loves to hear the truth out of your mouth.

 

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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